I am worried that Baz Luhrmann’s new 3D adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” may be too faithful to the book.
Ever since I heard that Baz Luhrmann was adapting “The Great Gatsby” as a movie, I secretly hoped that he would insert one major plot point, character, or theme that did not appear in the book, just to make the lives of America’s high school teachers a little bit easier. The news that the adaptation was in 3D came as a relief. All the students who wrote essays about the symbolism of the moment when Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes surged out of the sign and began rampaging through East Egg, devastating everything in their wake, would be easy to spot.
But it seems from the trailer that this may not be so.
New music is all very well, but it is pretty easy to recognize that F. Scott was not a fan of Jay-Z.
Visually speaking, it was so thoughtful of F. Scott Fitzgerald to write the sequel to “Moulin Rouge!”
But the dialogue sounds incredibly familiar, and the characters are all recognizable.
F. Scott Fitzgerald noted around the publication of his first book, “This Side of Paradise,” that “The author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever after.”
He did that, all right.
Almost anyone this side of high school has at some point been made to digest Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel. It’s Great! It’s American! It’s definitely a novel! There are more symbols in it than you can shake a pair of molar cuff links at.
It’s one of those few conversations we still have together. The required high school reading list. “Huckleberry Finn.” “The Great Gatsby.” “Romeo and Juliet.” “Frankenstein.” “To Kill A Mockingbird.” “Lord of the Flies.” “Our Sparknotes, ourselves.”
There is always a slight chilling effect whenever one of these gets made into a film.
It is enough of a challenge to make movies from America’s non-required reading.
But when you are adapting something that everyone had to read and quote and write a few essays arguing about the role of the American dream in, the atmosphere grows a bit tenser.
We have a strange relationship to the books we were made to read in high school. We know them more intimately than the books we actually liked. Find yourself in an airport lounge long enough, running out of conversation, and you can probably have a fairly solid discussion about the symbolism of the Valley of Ashes.
But what makes “Gatsby” so worrisome is that, in spite of being required reading, it actually is — well, great.
What will happen to the boats beating back ceaselessly into the past? The careless people breaking everything and then driving off in their expensive cars? The green light on the end of Daisy’s dock? That lever in the elevator that nobody seems to know what to do with?
If anyone can handle it, it’s Baz Luhrmann, who makes movies for the youth of his generation and the Desperate To Be Hip Schoolmasters of the next. If I had a dime for every English teacher who screened “Romeo + Juliet” for her class, I’d be able to finance this movie myself.
But the trouble whenever assigned reading gets made into a fairly accurate movie is that suddenly people realize they do not have to do the reading. And from the looks of this trailer, those people have cause for rejoicing.
But until then, we can all ponder the clip and sneer, “The book was better.”